Sometimes you just need to sit down and watch the sunset, or make a video of your cat.
I confess. I’ve always had a problem with time management. I’ve found it hard to avoid getting completely immersed in online teaching to the exclusion of all else. My exceedingly patient husband was getting a little grouchy at only seeing the top of my head over the computer screen. The cookie jar emptied out with nothing new being baked. Dishes piled up. Sunsets came and went unseen. When even the cat started to look at me as if I was a stranger, I decided I had better get a grip on my time.
So I took a day and read a bunch of time management blogs and watched a ton of time management videos. There are five strategies I learned that I want to pass along. They have really helped me over the last several months and I think they can help you too. The first three involve your head and the last two involve your heart. Here they are:
1.) Put Everything on a Calendar
When you teach online it’s really important to make sure you keep track of your classes, tutoring sessions, grading deadlines and anything else that you need to get done. The best way is the simplest way: Put it all on a calendar. I use iCalendar.
There are two versions of iCalendar. Desktop iCalender Lite is freeware. Voted “Best Free Software” in 2012 by PCMag.com, this wonderful little program for Windows features a to-do list and an events list in addition to the calendar. The Pro Version of iCalendar is only $14.95. It has the added features of pulling events from your Google calendar and providing a local weather module. Both versions allow you to customize the “skin” of the calendar so that it looks great on your netbook or laptop desktop.
This tool is so useful for online teachers. For example, when you schedule a WizIQ live class and save a link to your Google calendar, your iCalendar pulls the event over and adds it to the event list. You can also add events manually such as the start and finish of a testing period, the deadline for a discussion post or some other milestone in your online class that you need to remember. The To-Do list allows you to list tasks you need to complete and prioritize them. You can also post the percentage of completion or set a deadline date. You always know where you are in the work you are doing and what you have left to finish. The image above on the left is how my iCalendar looks on my desktop.
2.) Include Everything when You Write Down Your Tasks
Online teachers are usually very busy people, often working from a home office, balancing household tasks with work and time off to be with family and friends. One of the best things you can do is to keep a record of all the tasks you do. It is so easy to get immersed in work, in student contact, in developing lessons plans or working on a new presentation and forgetting everything else. If you have a spouse and children, pets and friends, there are other demands on your time that you want to honor. Keeping track of pretty much everything not only gives you a lot of information about how well you’re managing your work, but if you set up your record keeping right, you’ll always be able to tell if you’re meeting your goals, if you’re wasting time, or what might be keeping you from enjoying more time with your family.
A lot of online teachers also do other types of work. For example, I do editing and writing jobs in addition to my online teaching. Before I started keeping track of time spent on the tasks I was doing, I worried that the pace I was working at was too much for me. I worried I wasn’t charging enough for my sideline jobs. I worried I was wasting too much time on social media (that wasn’t related to advertising my classes) or even to family and friends. Was I spending enough time on my volunteer work? Did I leave enough time to do the things I love to do such as hanging out with my husband, or talking to my best friend?
I always go to YouTube to learn new things, so I spent an hour or so watching videos to get some ideas. A couple of people argued it was important to set up a spreadsheet to keep track of time and tasks. But I didn’t like the way any of them were set up so I decided to build my own.
I’ve been using my time management spreadsheet for a couple of months now and it is really doing the trick. I call it “Work Log” and it is comprised of several focused spreadsheets arrayed on tabs that feed into a summary spreadsheet. I can post my jobs, hours and payments, watch my classroom time, and keep track of time spent on other things that are important to me.
Here’s a video tutorial I made for my YouTube channel in which I describe what I did and give a few tips for setting up a time management spreadsheet of your own.
If you couldn’t make it through the whole tutorial, here is what I learned by keeping track of my tasks:
- I learned how much time is needed to set up and teach an online course for the first time. Next time I’ll know how to schedule the work so that it doesn’t cut into my family time.
- I learned I was underestimating the time it would take to finish my sideline jobs and that impacted on the amount of money I was asking for. Next time I’ll know how to estimate the time more effectively.
- I learned how much time I was spending on social media without actually accomplishing anything. Being aware of that has helped me use my social media time more wisely.
So I used what I learned from keeping track. I made adjustments:
- I limited my time on Facebook and had more time for my students.
- I analyzed the jobs I was taking so I could be careful about what jobs I took on in the future.
- I learned how many hours it actually takes to teach an 8-week course for the first time, how much of it went into student discussion, course materials collection and upload, and into preparing the lectures. Knowing that will allow me to schedule my time for the next class more effectively.
- I learned that if I really what the things that feed my heart to be front and center in my life, I’ve got to incorporate them into my schedule in a mindful and consistent way way. Which leads me to my fourth bit of advice.
4) Make sure you include things you want to do
Don’t forget that as a teacher, you need to recharge your batteries.
Live classes in the Virtual Classroom on WizIQ can be very exciting, but also very draining. It’s important to build in time just to relax, to read a book, do some needlework, gardening, or build something tangible. It’s important to talk to your spouse, your children, and/or other members of your family about your day, your students, how things are going. Sometimes you just need to sit down and watch the sunset, or make a video of your cat. It’s important to feel fresh and ready when you return to your work. Making sure you have time just to relax is as important as making sure you’re meeting your work-related goals.
5) Don’t forget to do something totally silly
Finally, don’t forget to build some totally off-the-clock/off-the-calendar time into your life every day. It’s best if that totally-off-the-clock time is totally silly too. Just do something fun:
Whether it’s making cookies with silly smiley faces, watching a really funny movie, jumping rope with your children, or running around the yard with your dog, it is important that at least some of that non-teaching time is just plain fun; the kind of fun you had when you were five years old and didn’t have a care in the world.
Online teaching can be the most rewarding activity in the world. A little bit of scheduling, a lot of keeping track, and making time for what’s important outside of the online classroom can help make it one of the all-time great ways to live your life as well!
[NOTE: All images are from Flickr and used under the CC license.]